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Promoting accountability in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/46/52)

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Human Rights Council
Forty-sixth session
22 February–19 March 2021
Agenda items 2 and 4
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Summary

Submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/20, the present report describes the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in promoting accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, highlighting the progress made and the challenges encountered. It also examines information the Office has gathered on human rights violations committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the light of relevant international legal standards. It concludes with recommendations addressed to the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Member States, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly and all stakeholders.

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/20 on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In that resolution, the Council requested the High Commissioner to submit to the Council at its fortysixth session a full written report on the implementation of the recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability aimed at strengthening current monitoring and documentation efforts, establishing a central information and evidence repository, and having experts in legal accountability assess all information and testimonies with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process.

2. The present report describes the activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to implement Human Rights Council resolutions 34/24 and 40/20, highlighting the progress made and the challenges encountered. The report also examines, in the light of relevant international legal standards, information gathered by OHCHR on human rights violations committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Consistent information continues to confirm that there are reasonable grounds to believe that numerous crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and may be ongoing.

3. The High Commissioner recommends that the Human Rights Council consider extending the mandate granted in its resolution 34/24 and extended in its resolution 40/20, and that it allocate the resources necessary for OHCHR to implement the mandate.

II. Background

4. In its 2014 report (A/HRC/25/63), the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed and continued to be committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It highlighted that the gravity, scale and nature of those violations revealed a State that did not have any parallel in the contemporary world. The commission of inquiry called for action by the entire international community to address the human rights situation in the country, including referral to the International Criminal Court. The crimes against humanity listed by the commission of inquiry entailed extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion and other forms of sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, enforced disappearance and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

5. Pursuant to the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, the Human Rights Council, in its resolution 25/25, requested OHCHR to establish a field-based structure to strengthen monitoring and documentation of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, ensure accountability, enhance engagement and capacitybuilding, and maintain visibility of the situation of human rights. In 2016, the Council, in its resolution 31/18, requested the High Commissioner to appoint a group of independent experts to explore appropriate approaches to seek accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in particular where such violations amounted to crimes against humanity, and to recommend practical mechanisms of accountability to secure truth and justice for victims.

6. In its report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/34/66/Add.1), the group of independent experts recommended the adoption of a multi-pronged and comprehensive approach to accountability, including measures towards the realization of victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence. Its recommendations included referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, creation of an ad hoc tribunal for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and prosecution of crimes by Member States through the principle of universal jurisdiction.

7. The group of independent experts also recommended that the international community enhance its efforts to lay the groundwork for future criminal trials for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That included strengthening OHCHR through additional resources to enable it to increase its contribution towards accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

8. In its resolution 34/24, the Human Rights Council decided to strengthen, for a period of two years, the capacity of OHCHR, including its field-based structure in Seoul, to allow the implementation of relevant recommendations made by the group of independent experts in its report aimed at strengthening current monitoring and documentation efforts, establishing a central information and evidence repository, and having experts in legal accountability assess all information and testimonies with a view to developing possible strategies to be used in any future accountability process.

9. In March 2019, the High Commissioner presented a report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/40/36) describing the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations made in resolution 34/24, in particular the establishment of a dedicated accountability team within the OHCHR field-based structure in Seoul. In its resolution 40/20, the Council extended for two years that strengthened capacity.

10. In March 2020, the High Commissioner presented an oral update to the Human Rights Council, pursuant to resolution 40/20. She noted that monitoring by OHCHR indicated what appeared to be ongoing systematic human rights violations in detention centres in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including sexual violence against women and girls. She called on the Council and Member States to engage with OHCHR in supporting possible strategies for accountability, and to provide the necessary support for OHCHR to continue that work.

11. United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, have continued to make recommendations on accountability for human rights violations committed in the country. In his most recent report to the General Assembly (A/75/388), the Special Rapporteur expressed concern that there had been no signs of improvement or progress in advancing justice and accountability for human rights violations. He highlighted the need to explore the full range of possibilities to secure accountability, alongside constructive engagement with the Government to find solutions to human rights issues. The SecretaryGeneral, in his most recent report to the General Assembly (A/75/271), welcomed the continued efforts by Member States and other stakeholders to follow up on the findings of the commission of inquiry, including to hold accountable individuals for conduct that may amount to crimes against humanity.

12. Despite those continued calls for accountability, other political priorities with respect to the Korean Peninsula over the course of the reporting period have decreased emphasis by the international community on pursuing accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The last time OHCHR was invited to brief the Security Council on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was in 2017. Accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and ending the cycle of impunity are imperative, not only to pursue justice and deter future violations, but also to achieve sustainable peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

13. On 28 September 2020, OHCHR sent a note verbale to the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the auspices of resolutions 34/24 and 40/20, inviting it to submit information on the measures it had taken to implement the recommendations made in the High Commissioner’s first written report to the Human Rights Council in 2019, and welcoming the opportunity to discuss avenues for cooperation and exchange of information, including in the area of rule of law reform and related best practices. OHCHR also shared the present report with the Government for comments. The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea responded that it rejected the report.